New Book: The Friars in Ireland 1224-1540

MS 180, f.1r friars
Friars and devils from the opening of MS 180

Friars in IrelandWe recently received a copy of this book just published by Four Courts Press covering the history of the mendicant orders in Ireland from their arrival to the dissolution, including the art and architecture of the many mendicant houses across Ireland. The cover design features an image from MS 180 in the Parker Library, a copy of Richard Fitzralph’s De pauperie salvatoris (‘On the poverty of the saviour’), an anti-mendicant text, showing friars of four different orders (Franciscan, Dominican, Augustinian and Carmelite), recognisable by their different habits. The Franciscan has a devil sitting on his shoulders.

MS 180, f.1r Fitzralph
Richard Fitzralph (Armachanus) from the opening of MS 180

Fitzralph was born in Dundalk in the late thirteenth century into an Anglo-Irish family that had close relations with the Franciscan community in the town and he may have been educated by them. He went to study in Oxford (c.1314), rising to become chancellor of the university, and in 1346 became archbishop of Armagh. Having previously been supportive of the friars, he seems to have turned against them, perhaps as a result of conflict with them in his archdiocese. The friars’ churches were outside the control of the bishop and Fitzralph condemned the friars for undermining his authority and draining revenue from his diocesan clergy.

Central to the friars’ identity (particularly the Franciscans’) was the concept of voluntary poverty. The friars claimed that they owned nothing and that in doing so, they were following directly in Christ’s footsteps. Fitzralph challenged these assertions in a treatise, the De pauperie salvatoris. The dispute between Fitzralph and the mendicants escalated and resulted in a papal commission to investigate his allegations. He died in 1360, before the commission had reached a verdict but his texts were widely circulated and influential in later anti-mendicant attacks. Another copy of the De pauperie salvatoris is found in MS 103, alongside texts by the most prominent of all medieval critics of the friars, John Wyclif (c.1320-1384).

The Friars in Ireland 1224-1540 by Colmán Ó Clabaigh (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2012)

On Richard Fitzralph, see A fourteenth-century scholar and primate: Richard Fitzralph in Oxford, Avignon and Armagh by Katherine Walsh (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981) or her entry on Fitzralph in the ODNB.

2 thoughts on “New Book: The Friars in Ireland 1224-1540

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  1. As Chancellor of Oxford Richard Fitzralph he must have been known to our founder, Bishop Bateman (it was a small world in those days). Bateman founded Trinity Hall in 1350 and died in 1355 in Avignon at the Papal court. He was a diplomat and a wealthy man – certainly not one to countenance giving up his ecclesiastical revenues either!

  2. Dominique, Fitzralph spent a lot of time at the papal court at Avignon and they would certainly have known each other, although I could find only one tiny mention of Bateman in Walsh’s biography, trying to obtain for his nephew a canonry which Fitzralph had resigned.

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